USS Barb — Pacific killer sub par excellence
Her mission: "help tighten the steel belt around Japan"
January 9, 2016
The barbus is a ray-fined fish genus, noted for its pair of barbels on its mouth used to search for food at the bottom of the water. The USS Barb (SS-220), was a Gato-class submarine, the first ship of the USN to be named for the barbus. During WWII in the Pacific, she was credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels totaling 96,628 tons including the Japanese aircraft carrier Unyo (there are differing methods to doing this count).
"I've always believed luck is where you find it, but by God, you've got to go out there and find it."
Sam Moses, writing for historynet, "Hell and High Water," wrote, "In five war patrols between May 1944 and August 1945, the 1,500-ton Barb sank twenty-nine ships and destroyed numerous factories using shore bombardment and rockets launched from the foredeck."
Already you see we have a different count!
Scale model of USS Barb (SS-220)
The Barb was a diesel-electric boat commissioned in July 1942. She was 311 ft long, had a 27 ft beam, and used a 17 ft draft. She had twin screws (two propellers). She could travel at 39 km/h (21 knots) surfaced and 17 km/h (9 knots) submerged. Her test depth was 300 ft. She had 10 x 21 inch torpedo tubes, six forward and four aft, and carried 24 torpedoes.
I have found it quite hard to pin down Barb's armaments for certain. There is wide agreement about the torpedo configuration as just described. Descriptions of the guns on deck however vary. The National Public Library has an article on the Barb sourced from the World Heritage Encyclopedia which my gut says is the most correct: one three inch .50 cal gun, a Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon. NavSource says she had one 3"/50 deck gun, two .50 cal. machine guns, two .30 cal. machine guns. Carl LaVO, in his book The Galloping Ghost: The Extraordinary life of Submarine Legend Eugene, wrote it employed a 40 mm gun and 5-inch shells.
What I do know are these things: many submarines of the Gato-class had their deck armament revised to increase their capabilities; the Barb would get a rocket launcher with 5-inch shells for shore bombardment, the only sub to get one; most of her time was spent on the surface employing guns against ships and for conducting shore bombardment. Precisely what she carried, I am not exactly certain, but whatever the combination was, the crew used her armament effectively — my sense is she used her 40 mm a lot.
As an aside, submarines designed before WWII were designed to have high surface speeds to around 20 knots. This enabled the submarine to close with and attack Japanese convoys on the surface at night. And you will see Cmdr. Fluckey much preferred keeping his boat on the surface. I will talk more about this shortly.
The Barb conducted one reconnaissance patrol prior to, during and after the invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, LCdr. J.R. Waterman, USN in command. Barb was tasked to operate as a "beacon sub." They were equipped with infrared signal lights and would coach incoming attack groups to the transport areas. The concept did not work very well. For her part, Barb patrolled the port of Safi, Morocco, 145 miles south of Casablanca and host to a pier in a man-made harbor that could handle deep draft ships such as were being used in Operation Torch. The intent was to offload Major General George Patton's tanks, away from Casablanca to cover the landing in secrecy.
After patrolling the area, Barb launched five amphibiously trained Army scouts in a rubber raft. The problem was the US did not have good navigational information. In any event, the scouts were to proceed to a bell off the breakwater and flash their infrared light. Everett H. Steinmetz, Capt., USN (Ret.) wrote about this and said the following:
"Two WWI four pipers, with striped down superstructures and loaded with commando type units, left the Southern Attack Group and headed first for Barb and then the Army scout raft. These additional reference points were intended to enable the assault destroyers to make a fast entry and moor at the pier. Troops could be discharged quickly to overcome the inner harbor defenses. Again navigational problems intervened. The scouts had to paddle much farther than intended, reaching their goal as the destroyers approached the breakwater. They were caught in a crossfire and were forced to vacate the raft and hang on. Fortunately the harbor was secured quickly and the scouts were unharmed."
After this patrol, Barb conducted four patrols against German blockade runners in European waters.
But it is Barb's Pacific experiences on which we want to focus and for which she earned an incredible record of accomplishment.
Following a short overhaul in New London, she moved over to Pearl Harbor and arrived there in September 1943. LCdr. Waterman took her on patrol to the East China Sea, her sixth. Barb then took her seventh patrol in the Philippine Sea. On March 29, 1944 Waterman's crew role sank a Japanese merchant ship, Fukusei Maru and conducted a double-bombardment mission against Rasa Island with a sister submarine, the Steelhead targeted at Japanese factories on shore.
LCdr. Eugene Fluckey was aboard to be evaluated as a prospective submarine commander.
Rasa Island is not much of a place, out in the Pacific Ocean about 240 miles southeast of Okinawa. Its Japanese name is Okidaitōjima. But it held and still holds a strategic location. It was an important place for Japanese agriculture as it was the only domestic mine of phosphate ore, used as a fertilizer. The mining stopped in 1940 but quickly resumed in 1940 as now the phosphates were needed for explosives. Barb ended her seventh patrol at Midway.
Fluckey took command on April 28, 1944. Under his command, the crew became known for developing innovative ideas, new tactics and new strategies, some say revolutionizing the way submarines stalk and kill their enemies. Fluckey had an interesting view of submarine warfare. He felt submarines ought to operate like surface hunter-killer torpedo patrol boats and speed along the surface targeted at their prey.
At the time there was a traditional view prevalent among many submarine captains that their job was to search, identify and report to surface ships, to wit, work as a reconnaissance vehicle rather than an offensive weapon. Furthermore, customary tactics advocated was to lie submerged and wait. Fluckey did not share these views. His idea was to stalk and kill, by all means available, more often fighting from the surface. Incredibly, his crew suffered no loss of life, not even one Purple Heart. Cmdr. Fluckey arguably was most proud of this achievement.
Underscoring his and his crew's bravado, the Barb used the newly modified Mark XIV torpedo. This is a photo of the Mark XIV, the Lark 14. She was the only torpedo type carried by US submarines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It used a steam turbine propulsion system with an air-gyro control system.
The Mark 14 was a bad torpedo, not trusted by crews. It often ran 10 ft. deeper than set, often exploded prematurely, often failed to explode, and was known to circle back to strike the firing sub. The skippers complained, the Bureau of Ordnance did not listen, and there was a massive scandal to emerge. Many skippers did not even fire them. Finally, after 21 months of warfare, the torpedoes were fixed. So the Barb, while Fluckey was in command, had repaired torpedoes, but there was still that sinking feeling among crew members with regard to how well it was fixed.
I will also mention the Barb employed the Mark 27 torpedo which was a smaller torpedo, such as shown here. It used a an electronic secondary battery propulsion system with a passive acoustic control system, a system that would home in on the sound of the target ship's propeller's. The Mark 28 was slightly larger and used the same kind of propulsion and control systems.
Frankly, t's no wonder he preferred using his guns from the surface, though of course he also fired torpedoes from there as well. But he knew the guns would fire.
Recall my mentioning how submarines were designed for fast surface speeds, and Barb on the surface could do about 21 knots.
On Fluckey's first patrol, Barb's eighth patrol, which lasted 52 days, he submerged only for one day. His crew got five freighters, the Madras Maru (shown in the photo), Koto Maru, Toten Maru, Chihyaya Maru and Takashima Maru, all within two weeks Barb also used the ship's guns to destroy two trawlers. Sam Moses, writing "Hell and High Water" for historynet, said this about this first patrol:
"Indeed, (Fluckey's) report on the patrol was so full of new ideas, so gung ho, positive, and entertaining, that the commander (Submarine, Pacific Fleet), VAdm. Charles Lockwood, gave it to President Roosevelt, who happened to be at Pearl Harbor on the Barb’s return. FDR enjoyed it so much he asked that all of Fluckey’s future patrol reports be sent along to him."
FDR had been a secretary of the navy.
There's an interesting story to go with this eighth patrol.
Looking at Fluckey, Lockwood asked: "How many shops do you think you can sink?"
Fluckey responded, "Will five be enough, admiral?," to which Lockwood responded, "Yes, five will be enough."
Then Lockwood told Fluckey this:
"Captain, the Barb, Herring and Golet will be covering the whole of the Okhotsk Sea jointly. For all three skippers, it's their first command. Whenever anyone makes contact with a convoy, you will be the Wolfpack commander. I know you have no experience in a wolfpack. Can you handle it?"
Of course, Fluckey responded, "No problem sir. You will have your ships."
As I mentioned, on the eighth patrol the Barb sank five as promised!
The Barb joined with two other submarines on her ninth patrol and together they operated between the Philippines and China in August and September 1944. Barb sank three more Japanese freighters, the Okuni Maru (cargo), Hinode Maru #20 (minesweeper), and Azusa Maru (tanker) and damaged the Rikko Maru (tanker). Best of all, they sank the escort carrier Unyo.
The crew also managed to rescue 14 British and Australian POWs from small wooden rafts, covered with oil and suffering from exposure and malnutrition. British and Australian survivors of Japanese prison ship Rakuyo Maru, torpedoed by the USS Sealion (SS-315). Rescue was by Sealion, Growler (SS-215), Queenfish (SS-393), and Barb (SS-220). This photo shows a few being rescued, I am not sure by which submarine.
Let's get back to the Unyo. She was a Taiyo class escort carrier. The photo is is a Taiyo class escort carrier, I am not sure which one. I believe there were three of this class. The Unyo was destined to be sunk, but she was a hearty soul. The USS Halibut submarine hit her with a torpedo in July 1943. Then the USS Haddock hit her and heavily damaged her with three torpedoes in January 1944. She returned to service in June 1944 and then met up with the Barb off Hong Kong, which struck her with three torpedoes and down she went.
Prior to firing at Unyo, the Barb struck and sank the oil tanker Azusa Maru with two torpedoes, just before midnight September 16, 1944. Fluckey said the Maru was "the pride of the tanker fleet." She sank in 15 minutes. She was carrying nearly 101,000 barrels of oil. The tanker was part of a six oil tanker flotilla escorted by Unyo and a light cruiser and one other. Fluckey has written Unyo was escorting Japan's largest tankers.
The Japanese ships in this attack had come from Singapore and were bound for Japan. They and the Barb were in the midst of a heavy storm. For her part, the Japanese had not detected Barb. After midnight, at 0037 hours, the Barb attacked the Unyo, hitting her on the starboard side with two torpedoes. The first struck her stern at the steering compartment, and the second hit the engine room. She settled aft and the crew made progress trying to save her, and it appeared the leadership and crew aboard Unyo felt the ship would not sink, that they would save her. However, she was dead in the water. The seas were rough and were filling the engine compartment as emergency reinforcement to the bulkheads collapsed in the heavy seas. At 0730 hours she was listing heavily to starboard and the crew was ordered to abandon ship. She sank stern first, and Captain Ikuzo Kimora went down with his ship. Oddly, the order to abandon ship came late, shortly before the ship sank. This is odd given the very difficult seas and therefore the high degree of difficulty in effecting a rescue. Two Japanese ships in the area rescued 55 officers and 706 men. There is disagreement among experts, but some believe there were 1,000 souls aboard all together.
This drawing depicts a Japanese frigate-destroyer chasing the USS Barb after the submarine had torpedoed the Japanese tanker Azusa Maru and the escort carrier Unyo. As you can see, the Barb is submerging with dispatch! Sam Moses, whom I've mentioned several times earlier, wrote that the frigate closed to within 2,700 yards, but Fluckey slipped into a gaggle of fishing junks, maneuvering between them. Then, the frigate stopped chasing and opened fire on the junks because her radar could not tell the difference between a submarine and a junk.
The Periscope published an article about the Barb in June 2013, "USS Barb, submarine star of World War II," in which it summed up the next patrols this way:
"The sub’s next two cruises, in the East China Sea during October 1944 through February 1945, were also made in close cooperation with other U.S. submarines. Barb sank two ships on its 10th patrol and four more on its 11th, with a partial credit for another."
Fluckey joined the Barb as a LCmdr. and was promoted to Cmdr. before the ship's 10th patrol, his third.
On that 10th patrol, Barb went to the East China Sea and torpedoed and sank the transport ship Gokoku Maru on November 10, 1944, and on November 12 did the same to the transport ship Naruo Maru. She damaged the Kyokuyo Maro merchant ship (shown here) that same day and sank her on November 12, two days later.
On January 8, 1945, while on her 11th patrol, Barb sank merchant cargo ships Anyo Maru, Tatsuyo Maru, and the explosions were so violent the Barb was forced to go deep and even then suffered a bit of damage to her deck. Barb also sank merchant tanker Sanyo Maru and damaged the army cargo ship Meiho Maru.
Hiroshima Maru, a merchant tanker shown here, ran aground in the confusion of the attacks by Barb and other US ships, and the Barb took advantage of that and sank her on January 9, 1945.
As an aside, Japanese merchant ships carried the name "Maru," which means circle.
Sam Moses wrote this about the 11th patrol:
"The 11th patrol was conducted in the Formosa Straits and East China Sea off the east coast of China, from Shanghai to Kam Kit. During this patrol, Barb, displaying the ultimate in skill and daring, penetrated Namkwan Harbor on the China coast and wrought havoc upon a convoy of some 30 enemy ships at anchor. Riding dangerously in shallow waters, Barb launched its torpedoes into the enemy group and then retired at high speed on the surface in a full hour’s run through uncharted, heavily mined, and rock-obstructed waters."
This is an artist's rendering of the USS Barb retiring at high speed on the surface in a full hour's run through uncharted, heavily mined, and rock-obstructed waters following her attacks on Japanese shipping off the coast of China on her 11th patrol.
Sam Moses wrote that Fluckey really hit the throttle to get out of there, recording 23.5 knots, a world record. His engine room crew warned him, "Captain, the bearings are getting hot."
One blog, USAMM.com, described the battle and its immediate aftermath this way:
"Without hesitation, he (Fluckey) ordered battle station torpedoes, and fired on the concentration, scoring eight direct hits. Fiery explosions rattled the enemy harbor, sending plumes of inky smoke high into the night sky. Fluckey and his crew decimated a large Japanese ammunition ship and a number of cruisers during the daring 2-hour spree.
"Dazed and confused, the Japanese immediately scrambled into the dark waters, conducting a frantic search, but to no avail. Fluckey escaped at full-speed, bringing his men and boat to safety four days later…where he promptly sank a heavy Japanese freighter."
"The Anyo Maru, a freighter of nearly 10,000 tons (was) loaded with kamikaze pilots, military supplies and troops who were going to try to re-invade Luzon in the Philippines. At the time, it was just a large ship, but Fluckey learned the details of its mission in his post war review of Japanese War Records.
"All in all the Anyo Maru (shown here) was protected within a dozen ship convoy. Fluckey's attack was coordinated with the Queenfish and the Picuda so that the large convoy was attacked first by the Barb hitting the last ships in line, then the Queenfish and Picuda striking the remainder from starboard and port sides. Both the Anyo Maru and the ammunition ship, Shinyo Maru along with a tanker full of aviation gasoline were destroyed along with all merchant vessels in the convoy. When the tanker exploded, debris showered the Barb which was 4000 yards away (2.75 miles)."
This Barb's 11th patrol was indeed historic.
Cmdr. Fluckey receiving the Medal of Honor. L-R: Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Cmdr. Eugene Fluckey, Mrs. E.B. Marjory Fluckey.
"He was awarded the Medal of Honor for these actions."
He also earned another nickname: "The Galloping Ghost of the China Coast."
As a related aside, Jim Richards, the crew member who reported on the attacks earlier, received the Silver Star at the conclusion of the next patrol, the 12th and final patrol. I believe others did as well.
I ran across an interesting comment about the 11th patrol in the Formosa Strait (Taiwan Strait) reported by World War II Database.
"On January 20, 1945, the USS Barb pursued a Japanese convoy in the Taiwan Strait, but the convoy was able to enter the southern entrance of the Haitan Strait before the submarine could attack. Commander Eugene Fluckey suspected that the Japanese had dredged the previously shallow northern end of the strait for warships to move through, and asked Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), which had a wide coast-watcher network in China, for information."
Let me pause here for a moment. I have done considerable research into SACO, and published an article, "WWII China: precedents for covert Navy operations in China and the connection between China and Vietnam." It is among quite a few covert operations mounted by the US in China, and the Navy seemed to have a hand in many of them,
SACO was an outgrowth of something called the “Friendship Project” between the US and China during WWII. It took about four months to get an agreement for this project. The agreement officially established the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Here you see Captain Milton Miles, USN, in charge of covert operations in China, including Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operations, and General Tai Li (right), Chinese Army's Military Bureau of Investigations and Statistics (Intelligence Bureau similar to CIA), signing the formal SACO agreement on July 4, 1943. Fundamentally, the agreement stipulated the Chinese would provide SACO intelligence information on the Japanese in return for the US training of Chinese combat forces. OSS is the predecessor of the CIA.
This photo shows a SACO-trained Chinese guerrilla unit, date unknown, I believe in Foochow.
The history of this arrangement is fascinating, filled with intrigue, and is grounded on the US side in heavy naval covert involvement. I and others argue, SACO provided the roots of the evolution of the Navy SEALs and their relationships with CIA. One aspect of the agreement was for the Chinese to take USN coastal watchers to strategic locations to observe Japanese shipping. My report is very long, but I commend it to you. It's neat stuff.
Continuing with the World War II Data Base, "On 22 Jan 1945, USS Barb, acting on information shared by Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), continued to pursue a Japanese convoy up the coast of China. When it entered into a bay near Nanguan Island ("Namkwan harbor") on the southern border of Zhejiang Province, Commander Eugene Fluckey checked in with Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), which reported no known minefield.
A photo through an American submarine's periscope of the sinking of a Japanese merchant ship
"On 23 Jan 1945, USS Barb attacked a Japanese convoy near Nanguan Island ("Namkwan harbor"), Zhejiang Province, China at 0405 hours, firing eight torpedoes and recording eight hits. At 1130 hours, Commander Eugene Fluckey sent Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO) chief Commander Milton Miles a radio message, thanking him for the intelligence about the attack location."
Now enters the "Fog of War" problem. Captain Emil Levine, USNR (Ret.), wrote "Who helped Barb?" published in the Naval History Magazine, June 2001. In this article, Levine wrote:
"Although Fluckey states that the Barb never received operational intelligence support from the US. Naval Group China (NavGrp China)/Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO), several accounts insist that these groups provided the tactical intelligence that enabled the Barb to attack the convoy."
And Levine concluded:
"Despite their strong dedication to duty, coast watcher personnel of NavGrp China and SACO did not contribute specific, direct tactical intelligence to the Barb attack in Namkwan Harbor on the morning of 23 January 1945."
Receiving intelligence information from SACO was crucial in WWII. Furthermore, SACO and its US Navy component, NavGrp China, were extremely secret organizations and Capt. Miles was led from the very top of the Navy's hierarchy. One has to wonder whether Fluckey did not want to credit them with too much given the evolution of covert Naval organizations that emerged from it. This is pure speculation on my part.
Early on, the USN really did not have very good weather data about the western Pacific, so setting up weather reporting nets from behind enemy lines inside China was crucial, since most weather in the western pacific originated there. Incredibly, the Navy prior to Pearl Harbor did not have any weather stations west of Hawaii. Furthermore, the USN did not have good intelligence or navigation aids and charts about the Chinese coast. Fluckey quickly learned that he was not seeing Japanese ships offshore because they were hugging the coast in shallow waters in the daytime and hiding in rivers at night. So quite often the only recourse for this very aggressive submarine captain was to go up river without charts, without intelligence on minefields, find targets, shoot them, and at flank speed rush down the river at night for the open sea, hoping to God he did not hit anything that would explode his boat.
Following her 11th patrol, Barb returned to the US for a yard overhaul and alterations. Cdr. Fluckey had been begging for a rocket launcher for some time and finally got one, not the best in town, but good enough for the moment. I find this to be fascinating, and did a lot of research to learn about it. I did this because the Barb was the only submarine in the fleet to have such a launcher and Fluckey among the precious few to imagine using it for shore bombardment. As a matter of interest, model builders have been fascinated by this as well in large part because they want to build their models as accurately as is humanly possible so many decades later. Furthermore, this was rudimentary rocket launcher was the beginning of the evolution of seaborne cruise and ballistic missiles of today.
An Army Mark 51 Mod 0 5-inch (127 mm) pipe-racked-style rocket launcher was installed, and welded to Barb's deck. It used 72 Mk 10 Mod 0 5 inch rockets. This is a video grab of Barb's crew inspecting the rocket launcher while at Midway. It's not a very good shot but that's the best I could do with it. Fluckey wanted to use this rocket launcher for saturation shore bombardment. His Mark 51 reportedly could fire twelve 5 in. rockets in less than a half minute.
There has been some debate as to whether the launcher was permanently mounted to the deck or brought out and setup for attacks and then stowed away after. Apparently Admiral Fluckey in his book Thunder Below addresses the launcher briefly.
A blogger whose father was a member of the Barb crew under Fluckey reported this about the rocket launcher and sheds a little light on whether it was welded to the deck:
"My father was a member of the Barb's crew for all five of the patrols commanded by Admiral Fluckey and was also a member of the 8-man party that went ashore to blow up the train.
This photo shows crew from LSM(R)-196 (Landing Ship Medium Rocket) preparing a 5 inch rocket for firing, to give you an idea about the shell.
"The Barb was not actually equipped with a mortar. Just prior to their 12th patrol Admiral Fluckey acquired a Mark 51 rocket launcher which fired a 5 inch spin stabilized rocket. The launcher held 12 rockets, which from the way my father described, it sounded like a single stack 'magazine' that held the rockets, which were gravity fed into the launch tube. When the launcher was fired the rockets dropped into the launch tube and fired in rapid succession until the magazine was empty. I believe the launcher was mounted on a modified gun-mount that was secured to the forward deck in the area previously occupied by a deck gun. The launcher was aimed by setting the angle of trajectory to 30, 35, 40 or 45 degrees to achieve the desired range then the entire boat had to be oriented in the direction of the target."
The crew kept the rocket motors unscrewed and at a separate end of the boat, to avoid the possibility of explosion. The launcher was fixed pipe style and was set up as needed on the deck. It was located at the bow on the foredeck where there had been a four inch gun. That gun was removed and replaced by a five inch gun aft.
Another blogger drew the following from Admiral Fluckey's book, Thunder Below:
"Barb was fitted with a rocket launcher for her last patrol. The launcher was a Mk51 launcher with the following characteristics:
- Capacity 12 rockets
- 5 in Spin Stabilized Rockets (SSR)
- 10 lb warhead
- Ripple fire or single shot; ripple fire capacity was 12 rockets in 4.5 seconds
- Launcher was fixed in train; launcher was aimed by pointing the sub at the target
- Launcher had 4 pre-set elevations selected by inserting a pin into holes
- Max range = 5000 yds
- Gravity fed rounds
"The launcher was set up as needed in the vacated forward 4" gun location. Fluckey makes a reference to storing the launcher in the 'doghouse.'
"I have never seen any pictures of the Mk 51 mounted on the Barb, though there may be some out there in one of the crew members private collections... There is some video footage of the launcher, but it is very poor quality and taken from up close so you can't get a good look at the launcher…"
And that is the video grab I showed you earlier. Please allow me to beat this horse just one more time.
This is USS LSM(R)-196 underway off Charleston, December 16, 1944. LSM(R)-196 had a simplified battery of 85 gravity-fed Mk 51 rocket launchers firing spin-stabilized rockets with a maximum range of 10,000 yds. The launch rail could elevate between 30 and 45 degrees. Each launcher could accommodate 12 rockets. If you look closely at the smaller launcher in the front row middle, that would seem to be about the size carried by the Barb.
Let's press ahead to Barb's 12th patrol.
Fluckey was scheduled to relinquish command of the Barb after the ship's 11th patrol, his fourth. At the time Navy policy for submarine commanders was to relieve them after four patrols, in part because submarine commanders thereafter either got too aggressive or too conservative. However, Fluckey, having received the Medal of Honor for his fourth patrol, convinced Admiral Lockwood to let him take the boat out for one last patrol. Lockwood of course approved. So off he went with the Barb and its crew on the boat's 12th patrol, Fluckey's "graduation patrol."
Barb departed Pearl Harbor on June 8, 1945. Barb was tasked to patrol off the northern part of the Japanese home islands, offshore Karafuto, Japan, which is now southern Sakhalin Island, Russia. Keep in mind we are only two months away from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. And B-29 strategic bombing of the Japanese home islands from bases in India and China had begun in June 1944, one year earlier, and became extremely effective starting in November 1944 when the US took the Mariana Islands.
The website history central reported this about Barb's use of the rocket launcher:
"For the first time in submarine warfare Barb successfully employed rockets against the towns of Shari, Shikuka, Kashaiko, and Shiritori. She also bombarded the town of Kaihyo To with her regular armament, destroying 50 percent of the town. She next landed a party of crew volunteers who blew up a railroad train. For her outstanding feats during this patrol Barb was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation."
I'll talk more about the train in a moment.
James R. Holmes, reporting for "The Diplomat," described the rocket encounters this way:
"Barb’s most novel cruise found it harrying the coasts of Hokkaido in the war’s waning months. A rocket launcher had been mounted on the sub’s deck during a yard period. Barb’s crew pummeled the port of Shari with 5-inch rockets, dueled Japanese gunners at Kaihyo, demolished canneries in the town of Chiri, and set the shipyard at Shibertoro ablaze with gunfire. One night in July 1945, eight sailors landed near Otasamu and sabotaged a train."
A blogger whose father served on the Barb with Fluckey said he had attended several Barb reunions and reconnected with one of his father's friends who was one of the last surviving officers from the day. The blogger reported this about the rocket assaults just described:
"On their 12th war patrol the Barb had a Mk 51 Mod 0 launcher and 72 Mk 10 Mod 0 5 inch rockets. They launched a total of 4 rocket assaults and fired a total of 68 rockets...
"The 1st rocket assault on the town of Shari occurred on 6/22/1945 at 2:34 am. The Barb launched 12 rockets into the center of the town from 4,700 yds offshore...
"The 2nd rocket assault on the town of Shikuka occurred on 7/3/1945 at 2:46 am. The Barb launched 12 rockets into the center of town from 4,930 yds offshore...
"The 3rd rocket assault on the town of Shoritori occurred on 7/24/1945 at 10:36 pm. The Barb launched a total of 32 rockets. 20 rockets were launched into a factory from 5,250 yds offshore (they fired 12, then reloaded and fired 8 more) and then they repositioned and fired 12 more rockets into the center of town...
"The 4th and final rocket assault on the town of Kashiho occurred on 7/25/1945 at 3:10 am. The Barb launched 12 rockets into the center of town from 5,000 yds offshore...
In his book Thunder Below, Admiral Fluckey conveyed a slightly different list as follows:
"Shore Gun Bombardments:
- "Kaihyo To Island, new naval radar station, radio station, and all buildings, boats and supplies completely destroyed.
- "Chiri cannery completely destroyed.
- "Shibetoro lumber mill, sampan building yard, and all trades, plus all new sampans, destroyed.
- Factories at Shari
- Shikuka Air Base
- Shiritori town and Oji paper factory
- Kashiho factories"
I found an excerpt from a letter to his wife, in which Cmdr. Fluckey alluded to his rocket launcher, writing:
"After a hullabaloo at the barn, I succeeded in getting some special experimental equipment installed which I believe will renovate submarine warfare. You'll enjoy hearing about this and probably will get it via the grapevine before we return … I intend to throw everything we have at the Japs till they rue the day the Barb was born — if not regret they ever started this war."
Let's now talk about the fabled train.
During he course of these 12th patrol attacks, the Barb remained in Patience Bay and on July 20, 1945 she pulled within 1,000 yards of the shoreline. While so close to shore, according to Sam Moses, "he watched trains all day." Reportedly he had studied the map and noted a rail line running along the coastline. I have seen reports that said Fluckey had set his mind on bagging a train. He determined that he could put a shore patrol ashore at night and plant explosives. The Barb carried 55-pound scuttling charges. So Fluckey concluded busting up the rail line would be easy. But what he really wanted was the train that was shuttling supplies and perhaps troops back and forth. So now he had the problem of how to detonate a charge at the moment a train passed.
"Captain, Swish here has told me about your problem of blowing up the track and the train at the same spot. I can tell you what I think you need to substitute for that timer to accomplish this feat. Mind you, I've never done this myself, but it's one idea … Well, I would remove that time switch. We all know that a 55-pound super-torpex, high-explosive charge has to be buried under the track to catch both the track and train. It measures in inches about 14 by 14 by 16, so we dig a hole and put that between two ties. Then we dig a hole between the next two ties and bury the batteries that are wired to and actuate the charge. Now to complete the circuit we hook in a microswitch. We place it on the surface between the next two ties. That's all there is to it … The rail sags underneath the weight of the (train) engine). So we mount the switch on two wedges, slip it under the rail, the engine comes along, the rail sags, closing the switch and she blows … When I was a kid, we used to crack nuts that way. Oh, I'd say the rail sags enough to crack a good-sized black walnut laid on a hunk of wood."
That description guesstimated at about an inch of sag. The skipper, being a Naval Academy graduate and engineer, of course, had to recalculate estimated sag.
I am not going to go into detail about this mission. There has been a lot written about it. The best available on line, though incomplete, is the excerpt available from Admiral Fluckey's book. There are many renditions: simply Google USS Barb and you will see them all.
At midnight July 23, 1945, Fluckey took the Barb to within 950 yards of the shore, into shallow water. This mission was the top priority, so the skipper did everything possible to remain undetected. The raiding party put their rafts into the water and paddled ashore in 25 minutes, though they missed their target landing spot by a little bit, and had to walk through some difficult vegetation and ditches. They made their way to the tracks, and posted three men as guards. One man climbed a water tower, which turned out to be an occupied watch tower with the Japanese guard sleeping. He let him sleep, returned to the crew, and warned them.
A train went by before they could set the charge, so the crew hid in the bushes. Afterwards, they went back to work for the next train. The men kept digging, the explosives were buried, and Hatfield was left to do the final hookups, with the men watching over his shoulders. Their plan had been to back away to a safe distance so if Hatfield messed up he would be the only one to die. The crew ignored that part of the plan.
In the mean time, Fluckey pulled the Barb to within 600 yards of the shore, in less than six feet of water, the raiding party signaled it was finished and was preparing to return. Then a crewman aboard the Barb spotted a train coming down the tracks, Fluckey grabbed a megaphone yelling at the party to paddle as fast as it could.
The train hit the trap, blew sky high, shattered, and the cars buckled, burst into flame, and exploded. Twelve freight cars, two passenger cars, and one mail car derailed and piled up. Five minutes later the raiding party boarded the Barb and Fluckey slowly, at about two knots, snuck away, having to remain surfaced because of the shallow waters. The Barb had destroyed the train and all its contents. This photo is of a painting of the explosion done by Rainier Hanxleden.
I want to highlight something here, and I am at risk because I am not a professional submariner. I questioned how Fluckey could say he was in six feet of water when I knew the boat had a 17 ft. draft. I've done some research on this and may have an answer. A ship's draft is measured from the water line vertically to the bottom of the hull (keel). However, submariners often talk in terms of keel depth, which is the distance from the surface of the water to the bottom of the submarine's keel. In looking at this model, you can see the water line to the bottom of the keel could well be a 17 ft. draft, but if he had the boat high on the water, and I don't know how one does that, I guess he could work in 6 ft. of water. I sure hate to doubt the skipper's word on this.
Barb returned to Midway, arriving there on August 2, 1945. On August 6 and 9 two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the Japanese surrendered on August 15, and the war officially ended on September 2, 1945.
I want to highlight that a set of quite detailed war reports from the USS Barb is available on the web should you wish to do an in-depth study.